There are a lot of bad things that can happen with guns, and guns can make it easier for such things to happen. But guns can also prevent dangerous situations and make it easier for people to defend themselves. That's the story that's not being told.
No matter what one's views are on the issue of gun control, one issue in the debate concerns us all: Will allowing law-abiding citizens to own guns or carry concealed handguns, on net, save lives? The answer is yes, it will. In my research I've looked at all 3,054 US counties over 20 years, as well as the largest national gun-ownership surveys, and state documents on illegal gun use. Gun-control laws either have no impact or increase violent crime. The states now experiencing the largest reduction in crime are the ones with the fastest-growing rates of gun ownership.
It is interesting to look at the differences between men's and women's opinions on this issue when they are surveyed. Anywhere from 30 to 40 percent more women support gun control than do men. Even when surveys are conducted to determine who actually owns guns in America, there are striking differences between men's and women's responses, including married couples. Married men claim to own guns at about a 30 to 35 percent higher rate than married women report having guns in the home. Interpretations? Perhaps the husband hasn't revealed he owns a gun; or guys brag about owning guns when they don't; or women don't want to admit their husbands have guns in the home. My guess is the last explains most of the discrepancy.
A lot of people's perceptions about guns come from news media. Constantly hearing about the bad uses of guns must have a big impact on people's perceptions of the risks of guns. Yet, we rarely hear about tragic events avoided through gun use. When was the last time you heard news about someone who'd used a gun to save a life? In 1997, for example, while people used guns to commit crimes about 430,000 times (more than 9,000 of those being murders), studies by respected institutions estimate that guns were used defensively about 2 million times. Simply brandishing a gun was sufficient 98 percent of the time to cause a criminal to break off an attack.
Yet many dramatic cases of guns saving lives go unreported. Consider the school shooting in Pearl, Miss. A Lexis-Nexis search for the month after the October 1997 attack shows about 700 news stories on the shooting. Only 19 of them mention the school's assistant principal, and just 13 mention he had something to do with stopping the attack. No national evening news broadcast mentioned his heroic efforts.
What actually happened? He was able to stop the shooting by brandishing a gun. He obeyed the federal law, which prohibits guns within school boundaries. He'd locked the gun in his car and parked it more than a quarter-mile away. When the attack occurred, he ran to his car, got the gun, came back, pointed the gun at the attacker, and ordered him to the ground. He held him there for more than five minutes before police arrived.
Everyone remembers the day-trader shooting in Atlanta last year, but few know that in the following 10 days there were three cases where citizens used guns to stop similar attacks. Possibly because no one was killed or injured in those cases, they weren't considered newsworthy.
A lot of the discussion we have these days about guns would be quite different if even a few of these cases, sometimes very dramatic ones, got some news attention.
The ability to defend oneself with a gun is particularly important for people who aren't the physically strongest members of society. Of all the people who would benefit the most from being able to protect themselves, whether it's the poor who live in high-crime areas, or women, or the elderly - it's particularly out of line to think they're better off if we instantly eliminate gun ownership.
*John R. Lott Jr., a senior research scholar at Yale Law School, is the author of 'More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws' (University Press of Chicago). This article is an excerpt of an address delivered last April at the Independent Women's Forum, a conservative think tank in Washington.
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